Archive for December, 2012

The Black Death

I’m standing on the cliff overlooking Christies Beach after a brief downpour.  Suddenly a surge of black water bursts from the outlet pipe below me.  It thunders over the rocks, and fans out across the beach.  The white beach becomes black.  The ooze reaches the sea, and forms a dark mass that moves south through the water, across the reef.  The Black Death.  A blob of motor oil, organic matter, topsoil, garden chemicals, and plastic trash.  Killing everything in its path.

The suburbs smell fresh, look clean and new.  The downpour has washed away the dust and debris.  Washed into someone else’s home.

Cleaning the streets is killing the neighbours.

This is happening in my home.  This is where I swim and snorkel the reef.  The reef-dwellers – fish, kelp, shellfish and starfish, rocks and rays – are my friends and neighbours.

I imagine their feelings as the black death arrives.  An inescapable, oily, choking cloud appears with the rain.  Breathing and feeding stops.  Many die quickly.  The poison stays.

The abundance of life on the reef has visibly diminished the last few years.  I see nowhere near as many fish this year as I did last year.  Bright green algae (or seaweed, I’m not sure of its name) is more prominent than it has ever been.

When I was ten years old, I wrote a story very similar to this.  It was about returning to visit Jervis Bay, where I had lived as a younger child, and enjoyed swimming in a pristine lagoon.  On my return, the beach had changed.  The lagoon was smaller, and darker, and sported a warning sign – polluted water, no swimming.  I remember my feelings of anger and sadness at seeing the impact of the industrial world on a place that I was attached to, that was so far away from the cities and factories.  An untouched beach, neighbouring bushland.  Now too toxic to touch.

And now, 25 years later, it’s the same story all over again.  But a whole lot worse this time.

It’s not just this outlet that’s spewing black death into ocean communities.  It’s every creek and stormwater drain along the Adelaide coast.  Maybe the whole gulf will soon be a dead zone.

And the same must be happening in every city in the world, after every rain.  Coastal cities are massacring their marine communities.  Inland cities murder their rivers, with the black death going all the way to the sea, harming all human and natural communities who live downstream.

No-one left alive.  This is biological warfare.

This is my breaking point.

This is real.  This is my home.

I considered blocking the outlet, but realised that the result would be that the black water would just flow over the street and the cliff and then onto the beach and into the sea.  So I scrapped that idea, as I’d just be polluting the land above the beach.  Mycoremediation or a wetland could filter the water.

A more practical response would be to prevent chemicals from entering the catchment [watershed], and every catchment, which would require preventing chemicals from being manufactured in the first place, and also directing water into the ground rather than sending it out to sea.  And that takes acknowledging and challenging global power structures.

I can’t do that by myself.  Will you help me?

Making rapid progress toward a crash

By the end of the century, the planet we live on will likely be uninhabitable by humans, mammals, and nearly all living things.  And yet nothing has been done to avert this disaster.  How is it that I never knew about this before?  Why is no-one talking about this?  This claim comes from the UK government chief scientist.  It was published in a prominent newspaper.  Is it just too much for people to comprehend, so we collectively ignore it?  Are our delusions so large that we cannot accept that we require a living planet?  Does this information just not fit in the conversations we have about the way we live?

I feel like I’m in a speeding car.  It’s only metres away from hitting a brick wall.  The driver has his foot full on the accelerator.  Maybe he doesn’t see the wall, or maybe he doesn’t want to see it.  Acceleration is the whole of his identity.  His identity is more important to him than his life.  In his world, speeding is all there is. In his world, speeding is what everyone wants, what everyone needs.  Solid walls that will destroy him, his car, and his passengers, cannot be seen.  The millions of living beings he’s running down with the car, they too cannot be seen.  Economic growth at all costs.

Next to him, the shotgun passenger is suggesting easing off the acceleration.  He sees the wall, but doesn’t understand the effect of hitting it at speed.  He can’t grasp that it’s a solid object.  He’s not suggesting slowing, or stopping, but continuing at a steady speed.  In his world, the wall might disappear into the distance, maybe it can be driven away with some new technology, or if we think about it differently.  Sustainability.  Steady state economy.

Behind him, another passenger sees the wall.  He knows we can’t continue at this speed.  He suggests slowing.  Degrowth.  Transition.  Energy descent.

I’m sitting behind the driver.  I can see that the only way to survive the crash is to stop as soon as possible.  A gentle deceleration will be too little, too late.  And even if it were a good idea, it would require convincing the driver, who refuses to hear.  Voices from the back seat are a threat to his identity.  I suggest we passengers kill him, and slam on the brakes. He’s clearly not going to stop the car himself, as he values his identity more than his life.  Resistance.

The other two are shocked.  You can’t stop the car, they say.  That would stop our progress.  How can you not want progress?  And you can’t kill him, they say.  He’ll lose control of the car.  And how dare you not be grateful to him for driving us all this way?

He’s driving us into a wall, I say.  He’s already out of control.  How can I be grateful? 

You can’t kill him, they say.  That would be violent.  You don’t want to be violent.

He’s killing all of us, and everyone in his path, I say.  If I kill him, I’m stopping the violence.  They don’t want to hear.  They don’t want to stop. 

I lean forward.  I put my hands around the driver’s throat.  I kill him.  I slam on the brakes.  The car jolts.  The brakes scream.  The windscreen shatters.

The crash is inevitable.  Some may survive.



Image credit  Top choice from an image search for “economic crash”.  There are a disturbing number of books with titles like “how you can profit from an economic crash”.